Sometimes a movie that screams Academy Award-pedigree just doesn’t score the nominations–let alone the rewards. Such was the case in 2013 for Saving Mr. Banks, which landed numerous critics’ award nominations but tallied only one Oscar nom (for Best Original Score). Perhaps that says more about the strength of the then seemingly wide-open Oscar field than the film itself, since Saving Mr. Banks is a thoroughly delightful film. Hit the jump for my Saving Mr. Banks Blu-ray review.
Saving Mr. Banks follows Walt Disney’s twenty-year pursuit of the film rights to P.L. Travers’s Mary Poppins. Emma Thompson plays author Travers, whose declining financial situation forces her finally to consider Walt Disney’s (Tom Hanks) offer after many years of turning him down. Travers flies to Los Angeles, where she works with–or, more often than not, vetoes the work of–screenwriter Don DaGradi (Bradley Whitford) and songwriters Richard & Robert Sherman (Jason Schwartzman and B.J. Novak, respectively). Interspersed with this story is the flashback story of Travers’s youth in Australia, focused on her relationship with her father, Travers Goff (Colin Farrell). Bit by bit her barriers break down, until she learns that despite her adamant objections, Disney plans to include animation in the movie. Travers returns to London, where Disney tracks her down, having figured out the true nature of Travers’ relationship with her father and how that informs her reluctance to budge on any element of her vision of her book.
I greatly enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks. To be sure, that had much to do with sentimentality on my part as well as unabashed nostalgia on the part of the filmmakers, but the movie has no shortage of actual production merits beyond the mere playing of heartstrings. Acting is top-notch across the board, as is the production design, particularly the recreation of early 1960s Los Angeles. Being intimately familiar with the Disney Studios lot, Disneyland and many other locations at which the film was both shot and actually supposed to take place, I felt transported back in time in a very real way observing their transformation.
Like any true story adaptation–or book adaptation, as the film itself ostensibly is about–Saving Mr. Banks does take many liberties with the facts. That the movie all but completely whitewashes Walt Disney’s image of his darker aspects is not surprising considering that Saving Mr. Banks is a Walt Disney Pictures production, but knowing so does not detract from the film’s appreciation. Somewhat more eyebrow raising–most likely because we know so little about her compared to Walt Disney–is the portrayal of the adult Travers of as a Grade A, raging bitch through most of the film. This rather odd choice for a non anti-hero protagonist is designed to be mitigated by the flashback story of the sweet young Travers (then Helen Goff) and her father, since their relationship is the real story and heart of the film. (As an aside, one of the actual tapes recorded during the script meetings is played over the end credits, and while Travers is quite firm about her very-defined views, she is nowhere near as disagreeable.)
The Blu-ray’s 2.35:1 picture is simply gorgeous, lush and crisp. The filmmakers wisely chose to replicate the filmic appearance of the era not just in an aged tint but by shooting with 35mm, and that look practically pops off screen. Not being a special effects spectacular, the film’s sound design admittedly does not push the 5.1 DTS Master Audio’s sonic limits, but Saving Mr. Banks’s soundtrack stars, the songs and score, do sound beautiful in the format.
Special features are sadly slim, but at least they exhibit some thought and effort: three deleted scenes, a featurette and a music video. The deleted scenes have been nicely “finished” through post-production to match the feature and not just raw footage. The featurette, “The Walt Disney Studios: From Poppins To The Present” follows Saving Mr. Banks director John Lee Hancock around the Disney Studios lot interviewing crew members on their recollections not just of Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks, but of Walt Disney and the studios themselves. Incorporating archival footage, this mini-docu is well-produced and well worth the watch. Finally, the music video consists of the Saving Mr. Banks cast and crew singing “Let’s Go Fly A Kite” in tribute to composer Richard Sherman on the last day of filming. Sherman is obviously quite moved by the experience…as thus will be most viewers.
To sum up Saving Mr. Banks: Nostalgic? Yes. Sentimental? Yes. A delightful movie? Definitely.